Senior defensive lineman Josh Lezin had a monster 2016 season on the field for the Lakewood Piners football program but it’s the way he acts off the field that impresses head coach L.J. Clark the most.
“Josh is as good a person as he is a football player,” Clark said of his star defensive end. “It you could pick anyone in the school who everyone would say is a really good person, it would be Josh.
“He’s very quiet and very old fashioned,” Clark added. “He’s old school. All that social media stuff that young kids do; that’s not for Josh. It’s all about business for Josh – work, school and sports.”
At a time when Lezin should’ve been amping up for his senior season, he had to deal with the possibility that he might not get a chance to play this season.
Because of a budget crisis within the school district, Lakewood was in danger of not having a team this season, but in mid-June the Lakewood Township Committee pledged to pay the amount needed to ensure the high school would field a team this fall.
“It was tough on Josh,” Clark said of the potential school shut down. “He’s a nationally ranked player and a lot of coaches, even the ones who already offered, still want to see how good you do your senior year. With his senior year kind of in limbo, it was tough for him because his future was hanging in the wind. It was very unsettling for him but he handled it with class like he does everything else.”
University of Connecticut, Monmouth University, University of Maine, Wagner, St. Francis (Pa.) and Villanova University are just a few schools that have already offered Lezin a scholarship.
The 6-foot-1, 268-pound Lezin was a second-team All-State and first-team All-Shore selection a year ago after terrorizing opposing offenses with his brute strength and high-end speed and quickness.
His numbers were off the charts, recording 13 sacks, 82 tackles (including 31 tackles for losses), four forced fumbles, eight pass breakups, two blocked punts and two blocked field goals on his way to being named the Shore Conference Class B South Defensive Player of the Year.
A four-year starter, Lezin led the Piners to a 7-3 record a year ago and a second-place finish in Class B South play along with their fifth consecutive playoff appearance for the first time in program history.
Lezin was also the 2017 NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III shot put champion as a junior and placed sixth in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions with a throw of 58-6.75.
After dominating the trenches last season, Levin has been accorded plenty of attention from opposing teams that have consistently double- and triple-teamed him this season while running away from him in an attempt to keep him from wrecking games.
“Every game he gets double-teamed and everybody runs away from him,” Clark said of the attention Lezin gets. “Nobody really runs at him.”
Still, even with all the attention, he’s averaging about 10 tackles a game and has recorded eight sacks with two regular season games remaining and the playoffs.
As a kid, Lezin’s favorite sport was actually soccer but his seventh grade coach at Lakewood Middle School, Bobby King, saw a big, athletic kid and thought a kid that big that moves that well could translate onto the football field.
He made the suggestion to Lezin and the rest is history.
This season, an injury to starting quarterback Zyheir Jones at the start of the season led to a 0-2 start. Two other losses by a combined eight points, including a 35-28 loss to No. 8 Point Boro where they had the ball at the 10-yard line with a chance to tie, saw their record dip to 1-4.
However, an impressive 27-7 win over Class A South Brick Township and an equally impressive 33-14 victory over Barnegat, where Jones and his twin brother Jyheir’s offensive production soared, has boosted their record to 3-4.
They’ve already qualified for the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year and will most likely be seeded sixth in the South Jersey, Group III bracket.
“The beginning of the season we had a lot of kids injured,” Clark said of his team’s early season woes. “We’ve been fortunate to get our quarterback back and he’s a game-changer; he makes a big difference. I don’t think there’s a better connection in the Shore right now then those two (Zyheir and Jyheir).”
The Piners are peaking at just the right time and could be a very dangerous team to handle and a tough out in the playoffs. It would also be a good time for Lezin to showcase his talents as one of the top defensive players in the state as the recruiting season heats up.